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31 Days - Epilogue


“Higher, babcia! Higher!”

Marcelina laughed even as tiny heels kicked her thighs. Soft boots covered Herbert’s feet because the harder heels in his everyday shoes had given her one too many small bruise. Fall was threatened by winter and she didn’t want to go too high and find the cold air lurking above. Dosia also did not like her going higher, but what her daughter didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

“Not today,” she told Herbert. “We should go down now.”


“You’re no match for the terror, Herbie.”

“Not Herbie! Not!”

Marcelina laughed and ruffled his hair. He was spoiled by his mamas and his grandparents. Not enough to send her up into the cold air. Or stop calling him Herbie.

“Herbert,” Marcelina whispered. “Do you want to dive?”

“Dive, babcia! Dive!”

Marcelina hoped Dosia had not arrived to pick up her son yet. If only because she would try to deliver a lecture. Oh, Marcelina could shut her down with her recollections of Dosia’s own adventures at Herbert’s age, but she’d rather avoid it. Not enough to disappoint Herbert who shrieked the whole way down.

A slight stumble on the landing made Herbert laugh. She shook her head. Maybe she should cut back on the diving. Her leg, broken twice, had started to complain. Which was ridiculous. She was not old like her babcia had been the short time she’d known her. It wasn’t that many months ago she’d turned forty-five.

“How was school?” Marcelina asked once Herbert was unstrapped from her chest and on the ground. Her wings shook, feathers fluttered, and she settled them down. The right one still gave her trouble sometimes.

“I hate school!”


Herbert raced ahead when he saw Dosia across the lawn.

Marcelina was left to deal with the security guard.

“Ma’am? I’m sorry, but-”

“Kirk. Kirk, right?” The guard nodded with a wary look in his eyes. “Kindly fuck off. I don’t care what my husband said.”

“Yes, ma’am, but I’m supposed to remind you. Every time, ma’am.”

“Kirk, I like you. You’re cute.” He blushed and she laughed. “And smart. Do something better with your life than babysitting me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He wisely left her to catch up with her daughter and grandson.

Dosia eyed her suspiciously as Herbert told her about his first day of school and about flying with babcia.

“Mama. You didn’t go too high.”

“Of course not. You asked me not to.”

“And you listened?”

Marcelina smiled and opened the door leading into the kitchen of the governor’s house. “As well as I listened to your tata when he told me not to go too high.”

“We dove, mama!”

“Traitor,” Marcelina told her grandson as she ruffled his hair.

Dosia only sighed and fixed her son a sandwich while Marcelina made coffee. Once Herbert chewed loudly on a peanut butter sandwich, Marcelina and Dosia sat down at the island. Dosia squirmed in her chair and spent a long time fixing her coffee.

“What? Dosia, he’s perfectly safe. You were never harmed. And I did not go too high.”

“It’s not that, mama. I know you wouldn’t do anything too dangerous with Herbert.”

“Of course not,” Marcelina agreed. “And risk the wrath of you, terror?”

“Atefeh’s pregnant, mama.”

Well, that was not news she’d expected. Marcelina sipped her coffee as Herbert’s chewing filled the silence in the room. The boy chewed loudly.

“Should I not say congratulations, terror?” Marcelina wondered if they had used the same father. A man she knew nothing about and despite her curiosity had never tried to find. Mostly because Jory stopped her anytime she tried. She suspected he knew. Telepaths. Ha!

“Mama, I- No, I’m happy. Atefeh has wanted to carry a child since we had Herbert. I’m happy she will get to. I just- Two kids? Mama, I can barely keep up with Herbert.” Dosia pushed her coffee toward the middle of the table.

“Oh, terror,” Marcelina said as she stood. She embraced her daughter and when it did not seem enough she spread her wings and wrapped them around her as well. Dosia trembled and Marcelina struggled to find something helpful to say. “Do you want me to call your tata?”


That surprised her.

“How did you do it, mama?”

Well, that was an easy answer. “I had your tata. I couldn’t have raised you without him. Dosia, terror, you have Atefeh. And the two of you are fierce and strong and great mamas. You can handle two children.” Marcelina squeezed her daughter’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “And this time you will not be the one with swollen ankles, yes?”

Dosia laughed and they stayed as they were until they heard Herbert say, “Uh oh.”

Then they cleaned up his mess together.

Jory came in as Dosia forced Herbert into his coat.


Herbert pulled away from Dosia to launch himself at his grandfather. Jory caught him up despite a stumble backwards on his prosthetics. Marcelina bit back a sharp scolding. Although Jory still looked over their grandson’s head to grin at her.

Idiot, she thought.

Jory laughed and set Herbert down to finish getting his coat on. Dosia visited for another minute, but then left to hurry home. She promised to come to dinner with Atefeh later in the week.

“Did you go too high?” Jory asked as he tugged her into an embrace.

“No. But I dove down.”

Jory laughed before he kissed her. His hands slid lower and she wound up nestled against him with the counter at her back. There were a lot of windows in the kitchen, but she didn’t much care. Mindful of his position he stopped before too many windows became an issue.

“We have news.”

Ah, that would be why. News could only mean from their old home. Marcelina still believed nothing the news said, but Jory she trusted. As governor he’d have access to other sources of information. Spies. She’d offered to be a spy and he’d very kindly said never in a million years. He’d softened the words over an entire weekend. She’d not minded, of course, but they both knew she’d forgive him anything.


“More riots. Another coup. The unrest doesn’t seem to be settling down.”

“Hardly news.”

“I know.” Jory took her hands in his. Now she worried. “The riots turned deadly. There were a dozen deaths as gangs ran the streets looking for anyone associated with the old regime.”

“Siemowit.” She knew. Jory was the telepath, but she didn’t need to read his mind to know he would say her brother was dead.

“I’m sorry, Marcelina.”

“It’s ok. I mean…we weren’t close.”

“I know, but he was your brother.”

She didn’t ask how. She knew how riots and mobs operated. There was no reason to ask for details.

“It’s ok, Jory. Thank you for telling me.”

“There is some good news.”

“Oh?” she asked, instantly on guard because of his grin.

“Yes. With Siemowit dead, Charlotte’s available again.”

Marcelina replied by chasing him from the kitchen and into his office. There were no windows in there. Charlotte's name did not come up again.




31 Days - Day 31


“Mama, why do I have to wear a dress?”

“Because it is an important event.”

“And you have to.”

“Yes. But mostly, it is an important night for your tata and we should want to look nice.”

“I can look nice in pants.”

Marcelina sighed and stepped away from the mirror. “Dosia? Will you please go put on your dress and get ready to go?” The strain in her voice must have penetrated the teenage brain her daughter possessed.

“Fine, mama.” Dosia darted from the room, but popped her head back in. “And you look beautiful, mama.”

Sometimes, Marcelina thought, their daughter was too much like her father. She stepped in front of the mirror again and stared at herself. The one thing she’d never gotten used to was the difficulty in clothing options when one had wings. Not only style, but color. Marcelina sighed and gave up. She was either going to look good at the inaugural party or she wouldn’t.

“You look beautiful.”

“Did Dosia warn you to say that?”

Jory grinned. It made her want to take off her dress, but only because it also made her want to remove his suit. Not that he didn’t look good in it, but she was always happier when he wasn’t in a suit. Or much of anything.

“Yes. Our daughter came down and said her mama looked terrible, but I should lie.”

“Shut up, stupid.”

“Who’s being stupid?”

“You are.”



“Stop it, mama! Stop it, tata. We’re going to be late!”

“I thought you didn’t want to go?” Jory asked with his arms still around Marcelina.

“I don’t, but if we’re going I want to be there on time.”

Marcelina laughed. Dosia had certainly gotten her need to be punctual from her father. And all the other good things.

“Wrong,” Jory said as Dosia hurried out to the porch.

“Where is she-” Her question was cut off by Jory’s kiss. Marcelina did not complain.

“Our daughter got plenty of her good trains from her mama.”

Marcelina pulled away, without leaving the circle of his arms, to ask, “How?”

“I know I should have told you. Dosia figured it out a few years ago and I thought surely she would give it away.”

“Give what away?”

Jory sighed and released her. He sat on the couch and rubbed his thigh. A car pulled up outside, but he didn’t move.

“Jory? What’s wrong?”

“You weren’t the only one the missile changed, Marcelina. I was just too afraid to say anything to anyone at first. And then, well, I guess the longer I went the harder it was to speak up.”

“Jory, what do you mean?”

“I can…hear people thinking.”

Liar, she thought.

“Never to you.”

“Well, other than keeping this from me. It’s a pretty big secret, Jory. Is it…on all the time?” Did he know everything she’d thought? Ever?

“Not all the time. I have to concentrate. And I swear, Marcelina, I do not go diving into your head. Not unless I’m really worried about you.”

“So, all the time?” The joke was a little flat, but she was glad she’d tried.

“I don’t worry about you. Well, I do, but not the sort of go into your crazy head kind.”


Jory grinned and she couldn’t help smiling back.

“You’re an idiot,” she told him.

“And you’re stupid,” he replied.

“Mama! Tata! The car is here!”

“Are we…ok?” Jory asked as he stood and reached for his cane.

Were they? Marcelina thought about it, but she didn’t have to think long. She walked over to her husband and took his arm.

“Of course we are. The Claw expects nothing less than duplicitous behavior from Ranger One.”

“I love you, Marcelina Couch.”

“Yea,” she replied as they went out to the waiting car. “But I loved you first.”




31 Days - Day 30


“Why you?”

“Don’t you think I’m qualified?”

“Of course! You can do anything!”

“I just- I don’t know. It’ll be a big change.”

“Well, it’s not for certain.”

Marcelina sat on the ground and plucked a handful of clover from the grass. It was hard to believe. Jory sat down as well, easing into it and stretching his leg out to rub his thigh.

“Is it bothering you again?”

“We walked pretty far today. I’m fine, Marcelina.”

They always walked too far. Or climbed too high. Jory refused to let his missing leg stop him. Even though Marcelina watched him climb mountains with her heart in her throat. He said it was payback for all the years he’d worried about her flying either by herself or with Dosia. She watched as he removed his prosthetic foot.

“You don’t have to prove anything,” she reminded him. Her hands dropped the clover and she reached for his leg to pull his ankle into her lap and rub it.

Jory grinned as he reached into the pack she’d carried. Flying was one thing, and she was happy to do so, but after one disastrous attempt to join him climbing she’d sworn it off. So, she carried up their lunch and worried incessantly until he reached the peak.

“If you don’t want me to, Marcelina, I won’t.”

He wouldn’t. He was wonderful. And she was selfish. She didn’t want him to do it.

“No, I won’t stop you. I think you would be a good governor. I just- I don’t want people to not vote for you because of me.”

Jory grabbed her hands and tugged her down atop him as he settled in the clover.

“Don’t be silly, Marcelina.”

“Don’t be stupid, Jory.”

He rolled her onto her back and pinned her to the ground. “Are you calling your future governor stupid, Mrs. Couch?”

“Yes,” she said with a smirk that couldn’t hide the way her pulse kicked up when he was atop her. “Stupid. Mr. Couch.”

“You’ll pay for that.”

And she did, but no more than she was willing to give.



31 Days - Day 29

There were some weights that were carried for so long one forgot they were there. Some terrors became so ingrained it slid deep into bone and nested with no intention of ever leaving. All of the weight, the terror, the deep certainty that her fate was sealed, left so suddenly Marcelina was nearly catatonic.

The news had first come in two days ago, but no one had believed it. How could she, of all people, believe it? For most of her life she’d waited for the president dictator to come and kill her. Or send people to collect her so he might kill her in the comfort of his own office. However he would do it, she knew he would kill her.

Except now the unthinkable had happened. The rebels had killed him. Jory had been summoned to the governor’s office early in the morning and Marcelina had paced around the house. She hadn’t even commented on Dosia sneaking out the back door. Off to meet Atefeh, or so she assumed.

Marcelina still thought her daughter too young to form an attachment. She was only thirteen. Jory laughed as she fretted. He’d told her last time that at least Dosia would not be getting pregnant. Which had worried Marcelina even more. Surely they were too young for sex?

Today she couldn’t even fret about her daughter. Eventually, after three hours of frantic pacing, she gave up and began to clean house. It was not dirty enough to distract her for long. Well, it could have been dirty enough, but she was a poor judge. There were no rats eating crumbs off the carpet or spiders as large as her head. So, it was clean enough. Jory and Dosia were better housekeepers than her and she was happy to leave them to the work.

By noon she gave up and went flying. Winter was approaching and the higher she went the colder she felt. The shock to her skin was a welcome sensation as she’d felt quite numb since the news had arrived. Marcelina lost track of time as she chased the wind. The few birds in the sky she left to their lives. There was no reason to bother them.

A glint of light caught her eye in the trees. She tried to orient herself, but was high enough it was harder than she expected. Sure it was the city park a few miles from home she began to drop lower and investigate. It could be someone in trouble. Some of the trees were high and kids had been trapped in the branches before.

Marcelina didn’t know why she veered off, but she heard the sound of a gun a second later. Over a decade out of combat, but some things one remembered. She was happy to learn that truth. Because there was another gunshot. She missed her time with the rebels right about then since she would have had a comm to call for help.

On her own, she dove lower and considered her options. She might be able to fly higher. Except, unsure of where the gun was she could be flying right into their sights. The same concern applied to getting away.

Although, the truth of it was, she wanted to go after the person. All of her pent up anxiety over the news she’d received was unleashed as fury. Marcelina said nothing, made no noise but the beat of her large wings as she altered her course and dove down towards the glint of metal in the treetops.

The next gunshot hit her, but Marcelina only clapped a hand over the hole in her arm and continued. With any luck, the gunshots would have been heard and someone would alert the authorities. So, she only had to get the gun away and turn over whomever the possibly dead president dictator had sent after her.

Branches whipped against her skin and forced her to pull her wings in tight. Fingers grabbed for any branch and she caught one before she fell through the canopy to the ground. Marcelina panted and shifted her fingers to grip the branch tighter as her head whipped back and forth to try to find her target.

“How easy you made this.”

“I knew you weren’t dead.”

“Yes, you’re a clever girl. Hanging by your fingers. Blood dripping. No one to call for help, Miss Mencher.”

“It’s Couch, you bastard.”

“Does it matter?”

“You faked your death to come kill me? Is being a supreme leader so dull?”

“I’m surprised, Miss Mencher. I expected an insult.”

“I’ve grown up. I save the insults for when it matters.”

“And I don’t matter?”


“Good bye, Miss Mencher. One final promise to keep.”

“Good bye.”

The gun, raised to her chest, wavered.

“No final insult? Really, Miss Mencher. So disappointed. How I’ve looked forward to his for so long.”

“I’ve no idea why. I was a child. Trying to protect her beloved brother. You’ve taken it too personally all these years.”

“You don’t hate me?”

“Of course I do. Don’t be an idiot. You murdered my brother. You tried to murder me. You sent the man I love off to be killed. I despise you. But all these years…I stopped thinking of killing you and only wanted to be left alone.”


“I’m full of it.”

“Do you want to close your eyes?”


“Not entirely weak.”

“Oh, for the love of anything. Will you shut up?”

A gunshot made her fingers loosen and she felt a fresh pain. A branch jabbed against her wing and she cried out before nearly losing her grip. She stayed hanging until she realized what she saw. The now truly dead president dictator fell from his perch in his tree.

Marcelina struggled to hold on, but cold seeped into her fingers until she fell a few seconds later. The ground was hard and she screamed as she felt her leg bend the wrong way. The same leg, she thought with a hysterical laugh. She’d broken the same leg again. And she was bleeding from a gunshot wound. And she worried about the way one wing felt. She’d never broken one before.

So, she stayed where she was and waited for, something. She didn’t know what. Eventually, it was shorter than she’d thought she found out later, someone found her.


Her head lifted up. Jory was here. Well, good. He held a gun. Well, of course he did.

“You killed him.”

It was not a question.

“Are you angry it wasn’t you?”

Was she? She’d sworn since they first met she would kill the president dictator. So, she didn’t answer right away. Instead, she laid in the grass under the trees and bled. It wasn’t until she heard others, and Jory shouted their location, that she had her answer.

“How could I be angry at you, Jory Couch? You always do what’s right. Even if you’re the scary one.”

“Who said that?”

“Can I pass out first? And then tell you later?”

“Of course, Marcelina Couch. You know you can do anything you want and it’s ok by me.”



31 Days - Day 28

Three times Dosia had tried to speak to her on their walk across town. Each time, Marcelina had quieted her with a look. She was furious. Too furious to speak and she’d even thought that maybe Jory had been right. Maybe she should have let him handle it. Well, too late now.

The door to the church was unlocked and Marcelina led them inside and down to the basement. In an unlit hall that carried a faint odor of mold she stopped her daughter. The single point of light came from the open door a few feet away.

“Tell me why you’re here, Dosia.”

“Mama. I said I was sorry.”

Marcelina felt her wings flutter and shoved her arms behind her back. Because otherwise, she might give into the urge to slap her daughter and she would not give into that urge. Dosia’s sullen expression was easy to read.


“Enough,” Marcelina hissed. “Just enough, Dosia. I have raised you better than your behavior today. What you did…” She forced herself to stop and draw in a deep breath. “What you did today was the worst thing you’ve ever done, Dosia. All of the apologies in the world will not take away the hurt you caused to Atefeh.”

Dosia glanced away. Her expression didn’t change much. Marcelina shook her head.

“You will sit quietly in there and listen. If you decide to cause trouble, I will…”

She did not know what she would do.

“What, mama?” There was a bit of challenge in her tone.

Marceline leaned closer to her daughter and watched her eyes widen in alarm. “You don’t want to know.”

“You don’t know.”

“I will let your tata decide.”

“You don’t know.” Now she smirked.

“I do know. And I know your tata would declare it extreme and he is likely right so I will not decide. Because I am furious at you.” Marcelina stepped away from her daughter. “You did not think, Dosia. And were needlessly cruel. I am ashamed.”

Marcelina laid her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and led her into the support group. It wasn’t often she came here. For the most part, she’d accepted what happened to her. Jory helped. He’d never once treated her like she’d changed. She did the same to him, despite his own losses. So, she didn’t come often, because she felt guilty.

“Marcelina!” Themba’s smile lit up his face. He waddled forward, small legs barely supporting his large frame. Powerful arms engulfed her in a hug and she hugged back because one always hugged back when Themba held you. She was set down and her wings ruffled.

“And who is this?”

“This is Dosia. She’s here to listen.” Marcelina looked at her daughter. “And she has nothing to say.”

Dosia crossed her arms over her chest and dropped her eyes to the floor. Well, if she was quiet, Marcelina was happy. They crossed the floor to sit in the circle of chairs. Marcelina found a stool to use. Plenty of people who showed up did not fit in a folding chair.

Themba waited until everyone was seated before the meeting began. After introductions were made, a noise by the door drew Marcelina’s attention. Atefeh lurked in the shadows and so Marcelina left her seat after a warning look at Dosia.

Atefeh was a pretty girl with blemish free brown skin and black hair that hung down to her waist. She was a little shorter than most girls her age. Although she was not here for being short. Marcelina took the tentacle hanging where her left arm should be and stroked the leathery skin. Atefeh stiffened, but did not pull away. Her other tentacle flailed.

“Please, Atefeh. Come sit.”

“Why is she here?” Black eyes narrowed as she caught sight of Dosia.

“Because of what happened. You needn’t sit by her. Themba is happy to make room for a first timer near him.”

Atefeh tugged her tentacle free and marched with her back straight, eyes forward, towards Themba to sit in a hastily found chair. Marcelina went back to her own seat. Throughout the meeting she watched Dosia and Atefeh cast wary glances at each other.

Themba never invited the new person to speak, but he did cast a significant look towards Marcelina. She sighed. Attending the meetings was one thing. Speaking was another. Especially with her daughter present. Still, when everyone else who wanted to speak finished, she rose from her stool.

“I think everyone knows me. I’m Marcelina Couch. I hate talking. I know it’s been awhile since I’ve been here. Things have been ok, I guess. I still don’t have work. Although, Jory says it is because of my attitude and not my condition.” A few people nodded their heads. “I still feel like a freak sometimes. The other day I tried to dust the tops of the cupboards and knocked half the groceries on the floor.”

“Always finish one job before starting another,” Lenny said with a grin.

Marcelina scowled at Lenny until she grinned as well. It was hard to get annoyed at Lenny. If only because he’d been through so much.

“I feel like a freak.” She did not look at Dosia as she spoke. “Sometimes, I’m standing in the shower and it just hits me. I’m not normal. I’ll never be normal. And everyone I see that day, I know they’re thinking the same thing. That I’m a freak. And maybe I’d have been better off dead.” Marcelina hated crying in front of people. Which was the main reason she did not come to the meetings.

“And I am still terrified that I’ll get pregnant again. Not because I wouldn’t welcome another child, but because I might not be lucky this time. Because this time, what if I had a freak? Like me. I was so lucky the first time. I spent nine months being terrified.” Marcelina shook her head. “I don’t know.” She sat down abruptly. “I miss being normal.”

No one spoke.

Everyone was silent long enough that Themba stood finally and closed the meeting.

Marcelina slipped out to the restroom. Dosia would have to be trusted on her own. Once she’d washed up she left, hoping everyone else would be gone. Themba was in the hall and he lifted a finger to his lips before she could speak. He signaled to the meeting room.

Themba left, grinning, and Marcelina wondered what was going on. As Dosia was still in the room she crept towards the door and peered inside. She never said a word. Only went to the bottom of the stairs and waited for her daughter.

Dosia said nothing, but once they were home she hugged Marcelina tight. They both pretended neither had tears in their eyes.

“They were kissing,” she said later to Jory, when Dosia was asleep. “Kissing, Jory! She’s too young to kiss someone.”

“We kissed for the first time around her age.”

“And look where we wound up!”

“In bed?”

“No! Well, I mean…you don’t understand!”

“I thought you wanted her to be more empathetic?”

“Empathy does not involve kissing!”

Jory laughed. Then he kissed her. Which allowed her to stop worrying about her daughter at least for the night.



31 Days - Day 27

Marcelina hated this room. Calm colored walls and rounded corners on all the furniture left one with the feeling they were still not old enough to be trusted. As if, at any moment, she would produce a pair of scissors and race wildly through the room with them.

To be fair, if only to break the monotonous quiet, she might have done so if anyone had left scissors nearby. As no one had, she sat and waited. Other than a traitorous shake of her wings when the silence closed in on her, she sat still. She must be in more trouble than she’d thought as they’d left her in here a long time.

When she’d been directed to sit, she had, but only after turning the chair to face the door. If they planned on something extreme she wanted to see it coming. One thing they had not done was make sure there was a chair for her. Wings, she’d learned early on, made normal furniture torturous. Not, she thought, the best word to use. Not now.

Marcelina’s eyes opened when she heard the door. The fact she’d slept shocked her. Three people entered the room, but she did not stand. Neither did she acknowledge them other than to let her gaze slip across their faces.

Hardly surprising they’d send them.


“You remembered.”

“There’s no need to be that way.”

“Fuck off, Siemowit. Go back to your stupid wife.”

“So grown up.”

“I don’t even know why you’re here.”

“I always knew about you, Marcelina.”

“Yes, well, I thought you dead. And preferred it that way.”

“Marcelina, we need to settle this.”

“Oh? I figured you were just going to toss me to the wolves.” She wanted Jory, but he wasn’t invited. The governor would come to regret that because she might have held her temper with him there.

“There’s little to settle. The president dictator will agree to cease fire and acknowledge the neutral accords once more as soon as the traitor and her family are in our custody.”

Marcelina shuddered and half rose to her feet. At the last moment she was able to sit, but her wings remained half extended. The governor looked worried. She didn’t mind the man, most of the time, but it was hard to like anyone in the room right now. Especially herself.

“I’ll go.”

Three heads turned.

“But I will not have my family accompany me. He will have to be satisfied torturing and murdering me.”

“The deal,” Zuza said as she flicked a nail against the sleeve of her green uniform, “is that your entire family forfeit their futures.”

“If you try to take my husband and daughter I will kill you.”

“Dosia will not suffer because her parents betrayed their country. The president dictator is a benevolent ruler. He will raise her as his own daughter.” Siemowit took two rather hurried steps back when Marcelina rose to her feet.


The governor glared at the siblings before he opened the door. Several soldiers stepped inside. Marcelina forced herself, again, to stand still. She wouldn’t fight them. They were only doing their job and she was one person. The entire region was at stake and the governor was doing what was best for his people. So long as they left her family alone, she would submit.

So, she thought no one more shocked than her when the soldiers flanked her brother and sister.

“Escort them to the border. Once they are gone, we will raise the wall.”

The wall was a myth. Or so Marcelina believed. An energy field to protect them from outside attacks? It was like something out of a comic book. From the corner of her eye she saw scarlet feathers ruffle. Well.

“This is a mistake.”

The governor bowed and said nothing. After the door closed he turned to Marcelina. She sat down on the floor and lowered her head into her hands.

“Mrs. Couch? Are you well?”

“Why didn’t you let them take me?”

“Oh, I would have. If they’d acquiesced to your terms.”

Her head came up and she stared at him.

“The reasonable thing to do would be sacrifice you and save the rest of the region. And a reasonable man would have left instructions to accept that term.”

Marcelina’s laugh had a tinge of hysteria in it. “Who has ever claimed that man was reasonable?” She spread her wings and gestured behind her. “A reasonable man would not do this to his own people.”

“We’ve never seen any proof it was him and not the rebels who were responsible for the…anomalies.”

“I will leave. But, please allow my family to stay.”

“You will all stay. Your husband would cause me no end of trouble if I exiled you. The man is a menace.”

Marcelina smiled. As if Jory were a troublemaker. Still, if he had that reputation and it helped her, she wouldn’t correct the governor. No, she would just go home.




31 Days - Day 26


“Three months and I still feel like we rattle around in here.”

“Do you not like it?”

“No, Jory. I like it very much. It’s just hard to adjust to after so long.” She limped from the kitchen with two cups. Jory grinned as she moved slowly and she scowled. “Don’t you dare.”

“After all that time you teased me? No, I shall never stop.” Jory reached up for a cup and she sat with only her own. “Did you see the news report?”

The news was, well, a new thing. They hadn’t seen news of any type ever since they were conscripted. Not that she believed anything she saw. The border area they’d found themselves settled in received news from both sides of the fight. Both sides lied.

“Which news?” she asked.

“About him.” They never did refer to him as anything but him. Jory might call the president dictator something else, but when she was around he didn’t have a title or name.

Feathers ruffled and the cup in her hand trembled so she leaned forward to set it on the table. Best to not hold something hot when bad news is soon to be shared. Jory’s free hand settled on her thigh and she tensed up. How bad was this going to be if he thought she’d need physical contact?

“He’s announced a new push. Along the whole border. Regardless of any neutral lines drawn.”

“He knows I’m here.” The sentenced was whispered.

“Marcelina, we don’t know.”

She surged to her feet and hurried to the window to look out. She saw no one, but she closed the curtains. Her fingers shook and she almost pulled down the curtains in the process. The door should be locked. Was the door locked? No, first she had to get Dosia. They needed to get her home where she would be safe until they could flee.

Someone screamed. Marcelina looked around and realized it was herself. Jory stood beside her, his hand on her arm. Why did he look so calm? Didn’t he understand?

“Marcelina, it’s ok. He doesn’t know where you are. We’re safe.”

“It’s not. Jory, where’s Dosia? Why isn’t she here?”

Jory pulled her closer and she whimpered against his shoulder. Her fingers dug into his back as she huddled closer and wrapped her wings around them both. They needed to get Dosia safe.

“Shh. Marcelina, I promise we’re going to be ok. He doesn’t know-”

“He has spies. They’re everywhere, Jory. You know that. We’re not safe here.”

He didn’t say anything. He did listen as she worried aloud about what would happen and how they needed to leave. The door opened and Marcelina disentangled from Jory and shoved him behind her.

“Mama? Daddy?”

Oh, thank goodness. She was safe. They could leave.

“Dosia, terror? Go up to your room. Mama’s not feeling well.”

“Is it because of, you know?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“Ok. Love you, mama. Love you, daddy!”

Marcelina pulled away and raced to the door to lock it. Then she went around the rest of the house from the basement to the attic to be sure nothing was unlocked. Jory followed her, not speaking. Once everything was secure he steered her toward their bedroom.


“Is safe. Marcelina, you should lie down.”

“It’s not safe.”

“I promise. We’ll be safe.”

“You think I’m crazy. Doctor Shepherd said I was paranoid. I’m not.”

“No, you’re not. It’ll be ok. We’ll sit here. We’ll be fine. When you’re feeling better, we can talk.”

“I don’t want these people to die.”

“Well, neither do I. And we’ll be sure it doesn’t happen.”

Jory continued to speak, quietly and calmly, until Marcelina stopped shaking. Eventually she was able to think rationally once more. Although, for the next week she could think of nothing but what trouble might be coming their way.



31 Days - Day 25

Two days without sleep had not improved Marcelina’s mood, but as it was already horrid she thought no one might notice. In three months it would be Dosia’s birthday and she’d sworn to her daughter they would have a new home by her birthday. They’d been holed up in the ruins of a small town for three days. Jory’s leg prosthesis had been repaired one too many times and they couldn’t get much farther with it.

Everyone was tired, no one was getting enough sleep, and winter crept closer every day. She knew she should sleep, but with every drop of her eyelids she had a fresh nightmare waiting for her. It was easier to stay awake. This morning she’d left early so she could claim to have slept at some point. Jory would know she lied, but Dosia hadn’t quite caught on yet to her mama’s tricks.

There was a chill in the air as the stars began to disappear fully. To the east, as she hovered a safe distance from their hideout, she watched the sun begin to send the night away. Despite her exhaustion, she flew higher. At just the right spot she could almost see the sun claw its way from the ground. Once, she’d flown high enough to imagine she could see the curve of the ground. She’d also almost died so had not repeated the trip. Jory had been equal parts furious and terrified.

Caught off guard by the wind she was pushed backwards. Marcelina cursed, thankful for no little ears, and righted herself. Per a very tired husband’s request she was only supposed to be up here to scout for incoming trouble. So, she let the sun rise on its own and steal away the stars, and began to fly a perimeter.

“Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Marcelina dropped down faster than anticipated. If she’d been less tired she’d have avoided the downdraft. As the ground hit her, unfairly as she’d never done anything to it, she bit back all of her dziadzio’s swear words. She could feel a cut on her on her cheek and new bruises would soon form over old ones.

Limping across the broken ground she thought she heard footsteps the whole way. It was likely sleep deprivation induced paranoia. She was familiar with that from her time as a conscript.

“Wake up,” Marcelina hissed as she slipped inside their temporary home.

There was no need. They were already awake and packed. Good. Because they surely didn’t have a lot of time.

“Marcelina,” Jory began before he saw her face. “Baby! What did you do?” He limped across to her and she shook off his attempts to clean her up.

“No time. We have to go.”


“Shush, terror.”

“Marcelina, sit down.”

“I’m fine.”

“Mama, your leg!”

What was wrong with her leg? Marcelina looked down. When had that happened?            

“It doesn’t matter.” Although she couldn’t stop staring at the piece of white bone sticking through her pants. The landing had been rougher than she’d thought.

“People coming.” The warning was the last thing she said before her vision finished narrowing down to nothing and she crumpled to the floor.



31 Days - Day 24

 “Happy birthday, Dosia!”

Brown eyes surveyed the decorations critically before nodding acceptance. Jory nudged Marcelina and she lost her scowl before Dosia looked at them. Her hair was a tangle of red curls she refused to cut or take care of properly. There were times, in the middle of the night, when she considered shaving her daughter’s head. Jory, up until now, had talked her down.

“Thank you, mama. Thank you, daddy.”

Jory grabbed Dosia and lifted her up. He spun her around the room and she squealed before she slapped his shoulder. Marcelina was glad when he put her down. He shouldn’t overtax his leg.

“Daddy! I am too old for that.”

“Then you are too old to go flying with your mama.”

“No! Fine. But I am eight now! Not a baby.”

“So, I guess we should not have gotten her that pacifier for her birthday.”

Dosia pouted, as expected.

“Well,” Jory mused as he slid his arm around Marcelina’s waist. “If she’s old enough, if you think, then maybe we can still do what we planned for her birthday.”

“What? Tell me, daddy! Tell me!”

“Settle down, terror,” Marcelina said with a laugh. “First we’re going to have sekacz.”

Their too-old-to-be-picked-up-daughter squealed again. Looking back, Marcelina could see why her mother only did the cake on her birthday. She tried to do it more often, but it was hard enough once a year out here. It wasn’t as if she could go to the store and get what she needed.


“I promise, Marcelina.” Jory always knew what she meant.

“I couldn’t do this without you, Jory.”

“I know, dummy.”


“Mama! Daddy! Stop kissing. I want sekacz!”

“So do I.” Marcelina winked at Jory and whispered, “But you’re worth missing out on even sekacz.”


They ignored their birthday girl to kiss once more.

Which Dosia only allowed because she opened the closet to find her presents. Jory said she’d already found them, but if so she at least acted surprised. As she hauled out the equipment, Marcelina kissed Jory again. They had learned in the last eight years to take advantage of any spare seconds they did not have to keep an eye on the terror.

“Are we really going camping?”

“We are. For three days.”

Dosia screamed in excitement and despite being too old threw herself at her parents who caught her expertly. The only thing that kept them from having to leave right then was the sekacz. As soon as they’d eaten their birthday lunch and had cake Dosia ran off to pack.

“Are we doing the right thing?” Marcelina asked in their room as they finished packing.

“Second thoughts?”

“No. Well, yes.” She wanted to say more, but they were convinced their rooms were monitored. “Three days of camping with the terror. Can we handle her?”

Jory closed his backpack and walked over to embrace her. She laid her head on his shoulder with a sigh. They stood like that until Dosia demanded they leave. Marcelina felt guilty not telling her they wouldn’t return. Unlike her mama, Dosia did have friends. Maybe they could have trusted her to say nothing, but it was safest in no one knew their birthday camping was only a cover. Best for them to leave before it was too late.



31 Days - Day 23

The banging on the door was louder than it had been before. Was it because the blood was beginning to leak into the hallway? She hadn’t thought it would move the way it did. Now she didn’t know what to do. Nothing had gone the way she’d expected today.

This morning had been lovely. The rain had come and killed the heat. Perhaps not the best choice of words. Marcelina had not even minded flying in the rain. Dosia hated it so she’d been able to go alone.

Yes, the day had started out wonderfully.

Now she stood in a tiny office with a growing pool of blood at her feet. And a corpse. Well, one and a half corpses. She thought Liv was still alive, but was afraid to get close. The woman was vicious. Randolph was most definitely dead and she did not feel bad.



Marcelina stepped over Randolph and perched on the edge of the desk. It let her avoid getting blood on her boots. Liv had curled up against Randolph and didn’t seem to mind the way their blood mingled. Or the way Randolph smelled as he lay dead. Marcelina had smelled death before and this was not the same. Perhaps this is what snakes smelled like when dead?

“How did you do it?”

“Not why?”

“I know why. I told him you knew. I said we should send you away. Or eliminate you.”

“I’m smart enough to figure out a way.”

“And there was the knife.”

“Yes. And there was the knife.”

“He helped you.”

“No. It was only me.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I’m sorry.” She was sorry. Randolph and Liz had saved her. They’d given her a place. Of course, it was all at his behest. Still, they’d been kind and helped her through her new circumstance. More importantly, they’d helped Jory.

“Are you? That’s a weakness you need to get over.”

“I’ll give myself up.” The banging on the door rattled the wood. “Once you’re dead.”

“Then finish me.”

“I can’t.” There was some shame in the admission. Marcelina thought that good. It meant maybe she was still good. At least a little.

“Another weakness you need to get over.”

The door splintered and three people rushed in with guns drawn.

Liv laughed, a wet sound that made Marcelina shiver. Well, she likely was pleased her last act upset someone. The men with guns stared at the room before they lowered their weapons.

“Glad that’s over.”

They left.

Marcelina, not sure what to do now, left as well. She went back to her apartment where Jory and Dosia waited for her. No one knocked on their door for several days.



31 Days - Day 22

Jory found her in the infirmary. She’d told them not to track him down, but the medics never listened to her. Someday, she’d figure out why they liked him better. Oh, who was she kidding? She knew why. He was nicer. Sweeter. Kinder. There was no one in the world as perfect as him. Which did not mean she wanted him to be here right now.

In the outer room she heard Dosia laughing. Marcelina felt bad. Poor Dosia had witnessed what happened. Guilt clawed at her innards once more and she turned away from Jory when he sat on her bed.

“Don’t be like that.”

“I’m terrible. Awful. Is Dosia ok?”

Jory’s hand took hers, but he let her stare at the wall. His other hand stroked the feathers on the back of her neck. She knew he meant to be comforting, but it only increased her guilt.

“Dosia is fine, Marcelina. You scared her, but our little terror is made of sterner stuff than that.”

The sob she’d been holding in since she’d heard his footsteps escaped. Now she rolled over and buried her face against his side. Fingers stroked her feathers as she wrapped her arms around his waist. The bandages and splint on her hand made it partially awkward, but she couldn’t let go.

Jory didn’t speak. He knew better. Quieter footsteps entered the room.


“Give me a minute with mama, terror.”

“No. No, it’s ok.” Marcelina forced herself to sit up and her wings shook before they settled down. With her good hand she patted a spot beside her on the bed.

Dosia grinned and leapt up. “Wings, mama!”

Jory shook his head as Marcelina let her wings extend as best she could in the small examination room. Dosia held still until scarlet feathers circled around her. Only then did she press her face against Marcelina’s side. The slight tremble in her small body left Marcelina fighting back tears once more. As she fought for control, Jory’s fingers stroked the feathers on her wing.

“I’m sorry. Dosia, terror? Mama’s sorry.”

“It’s ok, mama.”

They sat together, surrounded by scarlet feathers, until Dosia began to squirm.

“Why don’t we go for a walk?” Jory suggested.

A firm, “no,” was on her lips, but died as she saw Jory’s expression. So, despite the leaden feel of her limbs and the throb in her hand, she unwound Dosia’s arms from around her and stood. The medics nodded to Jory and smiled at Dosia, but gave her not even a glance. Well, fine!

“They don’t like me.” She waited until they were in the hall to speak.

“It’s not that, Marcelina.”

“Mama! It’s snowing!”

Because, of course it was snowing. They detoured to their tiny apartment to grab Dosia’s coat. She raced ahead of them to the outside door and waited with impatience as they punched their code in so they could get out. A few other kids were out playing as well. Fewer parents had braved the cold.

Marcelina was happy enough to find a bench under a tree and sit with Jory. The cold would lessen the pain in her hand. They had offered pain killers, but she’d turned them down. The base didn’t have enough as it was and she wouldn’t take away from someone in need because of her own stupidity.

As Dosia screamed and hurled snowballs, Marcelina laid her head on Jory’s shoulder.

“The holes in the wall were impressive.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jory laughed and scooted closer to her. “That is the first time I’ve ever heard something approaching meekness from you, Marcelina Couch.”

“Shut up, Jory!”

“I saw it as well.” The broadcast. Everyone had seen the broadcast. Every screen and speaker had blared the announcement from the president dictator. “It could be a trick.”

“It could be.” She didn’t believe it was a trick.

“It’s not, is it?”

“How could it be? Why would he bother doing such a thing? I don’t understand, Jory. Why would they have lied?”

“Marcelina, it’s a trap.”

“I know.”

“But you’ll still go.”

She wanted to go. How she wanted to go. Every muscle quivered with the urge to shoot for the sky, but she would not.


The pronouncement startled Jory. In truth, Marcelina was surprised by her own vehemence. Shrieking distracted her.

“Dosia, stop that!” She did not need to look up. She knew that shriek. Someone had thwarted the terror. Maybe they should stop calling her that name.

“Should we stop using terror? Will it harm her? Do you think she’ll grow up and believe we didn’t love her?”

“Marcelina? What did you mean no?”

“What about Dosia?”

“Stop changing the subject.”

She took his hand and wished her other weren’t broken so she might hold them both. He knew her well enough that he laid his hand over her forearm. The snowfall thickened and she thought they’d need to go in soon.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters. She’s your sister.”

“No. I mean, yes. I’m sure if he’s decided to parade her around as my sister she is, indeed, Zuza. Except, I hardly remember her.” Her wings shook as the snow began to overload the branches above and trickle down to them. “He expects me to race in there.”

“So, you’re not going to go?”

Marcelina stood and hauled Jory up with her. “The Menchers have to deal with their own problems. I’ve enough on my plate with the Couch family.”

Jory didn’t look convinced, but eventually he would accept she did not mean to go. Although, later as she helped clean up the mess she made of their rooms she felt a moment’s desire to flee. She’d never liked cleaning her room.



31 Days - Day 21


There had been several months of quiet. They hadn’t even been sent out on any missions. Marcelina was going stir crazy, but she didn’t dare say anything lest it be taken the wrong way. The last thing she wanted was for Jory to think she wanted to be away from him. Dosia had been thrilled to have her mama and daddy around all the time. It was all going well.

“You’re bored.”

Marcelina looked up from the comic she read to Dosia. Despite the shake of her head, Jory grinned at her. Dosia slapped her hand against the paper.

“Mama. Read.”

“Dosia, take the comic to your room. Let mama talk to daddy.”

“I don’t want to!”

“Then you do not want pudding.”

“I do want pudding!”

“Then go to your room.”

Dosia glared at her parents, but she took the comic and stomped her way to her room.

“You know, that will stop working eventually.”

Jory pulled himself up from his chair and made unsteady steps to the sofa. Marcelina helped him sit. Today had been a bad day and he’d taken a fall while in the lab. As hard as it had been, she hadn’t freaked out. Not while he was awake.

When he’d been in bed, sedated and resting, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and cried until Dosia had demanded she come out and give her lunch. Jory leaned against her and she wrapped her arms around him.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried about you.”

“No, you’re not. Marcelina, what’s wrong?”

“I can’t stop thinking about it.”

It had been a year, but she could still hear the president dictator’s words. His whispers of controlling them here. He’d never lied to her.  And now, after everything she'd been through, she very likely lived on his sufferance.


“Don’t say I shouldn’t worry, Jory. Don’t say it was only- that he only- just don’t say it!”

“Have I ever?”

No, he hadn’t. She’d told him what she’d been told. After she’d managed to make it back to the base. He’d promised he would look into it. More importantly, Jory’d never said she shouldn’t believe what she’d been told.

“I’m sorry, Jory.” She kissed his cheek and hugged him tighter.

Jory grinned and poked her in the side. “I haven’t forgotten it either, Marcelina. I promise, we’ll sort it out. Only, not tonight.”

He sounded too tired and she worried even more about him. The last thing he would do was admit he didn’t feel well. Not that he had to since she knew him. Marcelina slid out from under him.

“I’m going to go read to the terror. Then I am going to take her to get pudding.” He made to stand and she shook her head. “No, you rest. I’ll wear her out and then get her to bed.”

“And then, Mrs. Couch?”

Marcelina winked at her husband as he stretched out on the sofa. “Then I will do the opposite with you, Mr. Couch.”

“I get pudding in bed?”

The pillow on the chair was tossed at his head before she went to fetch Dosia.



31 Days - Day 20

There’d been warning signs. At least, that’s what others told her. A shame no one thought to tell her before it happened. Instead, she’d been caught off guard. Dosia and Jory were having a father and daughter adventure. She wasn’t sure what they did on those days. Left on her own, she’d spent the day outside. Sometimes she just wanted to fly.

It wasn’t safe during the day. Not that the fact stopped Marcelina. It did make her more cautious. Because she’d promised Jory to be more cautious after last year when she’d almost been caught. So, it had been months since she’d risked flying up so high during the day.

How far away it came from, Marcelina was not sure. All she knew was that a few hours after noon, as she drifted on the warm updrafts over the ruined town they lived in, there was a massive explosion within sight. She saw the missile and heard the explosion. Thankfully, it was not so close as to knock her from the air.

“Don’t do it,” she told herself.

A shame she never listened to herself.

Marcelina dove low and skimmed the stumpy trees between her and the blast zone. Was the army advancing on them? If so, she needed to know because she had to get Jory and Dosia to safety. The others would get the early warning, but they were on their own. She’d decided a long time ago when the attack on them came she was fleeing. Her family would not be casualties no matter how she wanted to kill those responsible for her situation.

A large building she’d spied before was rubble now. A couple of smaller outbuildings were partially collapsed. Marcelina did not know what this place had been used for recently, but she’d heard rumors another group, not associated with the one she was in, ran out of here. No one moved below. Other than a tinkle of glass as a window dripped down there was no noise.

Recalling her promise to be careful, she did not go swooping down to look for survivors. Even though every nerve in her body screamed at her to do so and do it now. Instead, she dropped to the ground near a small copse of trees. There was no chatter on the comm in her ear. Marcelina wore it whenever she left the camp.

There was too much open ground between her and the building. Marcelina crouched down in the underbrush and waited. As her wings thrummed against her back she heard static in her ear. Was someone nearby? They didn’t have the tech needed for uninterrupted communication. Sometimes they bumped up against another frequency in use.

Hating herself for not doing the smart thing, she thumbed the comm to vocal mode.

“Hello?” she whispered.

“How did I know it would be you who responded?”

The voice on the other end left Marcelina frozen in place. She couldn’t feel her limbs, let alone make them work. It was only an ingrained will to not give anything away to him that allowed her to stifle a scared whimper.

“Why did you kill those people?”

“I didn’t.”

“Your army did.”

“No, Miss Mencher, you and your terrorist organization did. The film footage will show it. I have to say, for an enemy of the state, you do make a grand entrance.”

Cameras? There were cameras in the area? Marcelina’s head whipped around, but couldn’t see anything.

“We did not do this. And it is not my organization.”

“No, Miss Mencher. It’s mine.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’ve never lied to you, Miss Mencher.”

“Couch,” she hissed as if her last name were the most important piece of information in the conversation.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll be sure your headstone in the traitor’s swamp has the proper name.”

“You won’t kill me.”

“Oh, I will. Not my soldiers, not my civil servants, like your brother. No, not even an ordinary citizen. I will kill you, Marcelina Couch. Now, go fetch any survivors. Let’s see what hideousness you’ve inflicted on this group.”

The static died and silence rang in her ear once more.

Marcelina didn’t move. Not for several hours. She couldn’t.

The shift of rubble finally made her move. She remembered her own incident. The building had dropped on them. Jory was injured and she’d been left like this. No matter what that man said, she had to go see if anyone survived.

Marcelina dug through the ruins of the building. In the end, she wound up with two broken fingers, a bleeding gash up the inside of one arm, and three corpses. Two of them had been changed. She wasn’t sure if that’s what had killed them or something else. The third had been alive when she’d found him. Unable to help, afraid to move him, she held his hand until he died.




31 Days - Day 19


“What were you thinking?”

“Could you, maybe, not yell?”

“Marcelina, how are you going to get out?”

“I don’t know.”

Nothing from her comm.




Under her, she heard voices. They were muffled, but she could hear at least two of them. Her wings vibrated so she put her hands behind her and clasped them against her back. Would someone hear? Would they come up here and investigate? No one had been up here in some time. The dust was so thick she worried about a coughing fit.

“I’m here. It’s going to be ok.”

“Jory? I’m so sorry. I am. I know it wasn’t…smart.” She hated the admission.

“Marcelina, I am going to send Dosia to sleep with Cath and Bridge when you make it back. Then I am going to spend the night yelling at you. Because, yes, it was not smart.”


“I’m scared.” If she’d hated the last admission, this one was physically painful.

“I know, but I promise you it’ll be ok. And I am always right.”

“Are not.”

Under her, the voices stopped. Footsteps walked directly under her and Marcelina held her breath. She tried to shrink back further into the corner, but already splinters from the walls bit into her back.

“I think they’re going to bed,” she whispered. “I can get out when they’re in bed.”


“Tell me when.”

“I’m not there, Mrs. Couch.”

She smiled and unwound herself a fraction. “So, you’re not always right, Mr. Couch?” Footsteps walked under her again. “Because you just said.”

“Marcelina, this is serious.”

“And…I am angry and scared and…and I can’t think about anything but running. Please, Jory. I need you.”

“Tell me when the noise stops.”

He waited for her acknowledgement. Once he had it, he told her about Dosia’s day. A couple of times she had to stop herself from laughing. Marcelina really did not know what she would do without Jory.

“I need you, Marcelina. Please. Please be careful.”

“You don’t need me.”

“I am not raising the terror on my own.”

“I need you, Jory. Please, tell me it will be ok.”

“It’s going to be fine. I promise.”

Marcelina closed her eyes and tried to breathe normally. Every noise made her want to gasp. Eventually, the house grew quiet except for the noises it made on its own. After she told Jory he had her wait another hour.

“Go now.”

Wings tucked up close, she crawled across the floor to the exit. The hinges were not kept oiled like they’d been in the past. So, she opened it slowly and cautiously let herself down to the hallway. Rather than risk the noise, she left the attic entry open.

It wasn’t until her hand was on the front door that she heard a noise. Marcelina spun around and stared at a sleepy-eyed woman. Neither of them spoke. Recognition came slowly, but Marcelina was a beat faster.


“Marcelina? What is it?”

“Siemowit!” the other woman screamed. “Help! Help!”

Marcelina did not wait to see her brother. She threw the front door open and took two steps before she spread her wings and threw herself into the air. Behind her, she heard loud voices. The lights in the neighborhood came on slowly and followed her as she fled her own home.

“Marcelina? Are you ok?”

“He married her.”


“The twice cursed bastard married her.”

“Married who? Marcelina? Did they see you?”

“No. He didn’t. But she did.”


Marcelina didn’t answer right away. The wind shifted and she had to fight to stay on course. It took her several miles to get herself on the right path once more.

“Siemowit married Charlotte,” she growled.

Jory laughed in her ear.




31 Days - Day 18


“Mama! Higher, mama!”

Dosia squealed as her bare feet kicked Marcelina’s stomach. Despite her promises to Jory to keep low to the ground, Marcelina caught an updraft. Dosia screamed as her chubby fingers clutched the leather harness keeping her strapped to her mama.  She was fearless and Marcelina loved her for it. It also kept her up at night with the sort of fear she’d never felt for herself.

“Mama had better not have done what the little terror said.”

Jory’s voice in her ear made her shiver in a way the winter wind did not. Whatever secret project he worked on must be done. She hadn’t seen him for two days as he’d been locked in his office.

“Want to go see daddy?”

Arms thrown out wide with a squeal, Dosia screamed, “Daddy!”

“I feel the same way.”

“Fast, mama! Fast!”

Marcelina whooped, tucked her scarlet wings in, and dove for the ground. The whole way down, Dosia laughed and kicked. Even knowing she was liable to wind up black and blue from tiny feet she couldn’t resist.

 A stumble on her landing did not diminish Dosia’s fun.

It did, she noted, make Jory’s worried scowl deepen. Even though their daughter continued to squeal in delight, Marcelina didn’t manage more than a quick smile.

Jory had his cane and the few paces between them he covered slowly. Had he not slept at all the last couple days? New worry bloomed in her chest. Dosia tried to launch herself at her daddy, but the leather straps held her in place. Jory tried to undo the buckles, but his hands shook.

“Daddy! Hold me. Daddy!”

“I’m trying, terror. Just give daddy a minute.”

“Better idea. Let mama carry you til we get home.”

“I want daddy! Daddy, hold me!”


Marcelina rarely used that tone with her daughter. On more than one occasion it had been pointed out she spoiled her daughter. Most of the time, Marcelina would tell them to fuck off. Her daughter already had an abnormal childhood. All the terror she’d been insulated from was always a day away for Dosia. So, if she were a little spoiled she had it coming.

If there was one thing, one thing, she would not let her daughter get away with, it was anything that might harm Jory. He’d already suffered so much for her. She would die for him, kill for him. And, if the need arose, she would scold her daughter.

“Sorry, daddy.”

“It’s ok, baby terror. But, mama’s right. Let’s go inside and I’ll hold you.”

The harness itched, but Marcelina knew better than to take it off and free Dosia. They weren’t that far from the entrance to their hallway. The rooms they lived in were right by the outside door. No one had wanted them. Not secure enough for the more nervous sort. Marcelina liked the idea of being able to get out quick.

Once inside, she shooed Jory to the sofa. Her own hands shook as she watched his heavy limp. They worked him too hard and it made her angry. His own worries about some of her missions she could dismiss. After all, she was tough. Not that she would say such a thing to him. Not after last time.


Dosia was impatient. Her kicks had grown more insistent. So, Marcelina freed her and watched her race toward Jory. Once free of the harness she went to the bathroom. Another reason to take these rooms. Hardly anyone had their own bathroom. From the cabinet she took out Jory’s medicines.

“How do you do that?”

Dosia was curled up in a chair half-asleep.

“I’m magic.”

His words made her shiver. Rather than kiss him senseless, she brought him the pills. After he took them. That would be the time to kiss him senseless.

Except, magic didn’t exist and by the time Jory felt better Dosia was awake and running around. Marcelina left them to fetch dinner. Not once did she think of asking him what he’d been working on. They’d agreed to that right after the rebels had pulled them into the fold.

A fold she knew he disliked as much as her. Three years now and she had the sense they’d already seen the best this group had to offer. Neither of them spoke of leaving. After living under the rule of a tyrant all their lives neither of them trusted anyplace to be free of observation.

By the time they were done with dinner, both Dosia and Jory were nodding off.

“They work you too hard.”

“Well, there’s not enough smart people to go around.”

“Are you calling me dumb?”


“Idiot. I should have let Charlotte have you.”

Jory laughed before he stroked the scarlet feathers on the back of her neck. If he was not so tired as to make the invitation, she would take him up on it. With any luck, Dosia would not wake up and interrupt.




31 Days - Day 17

They’d said it was a suicide mission. No one had wanted to go. Since the job needed doing they’d asked for volunteers. Of which there had not been any. Not until she’d raised her hand. Dosia had started to cry as if she knew her mother was being an idiot. Or so Jory had told her later that night once their daughter had gone to bed.

Their argument was quiet so as not to wake her, but it was an argument. Marcelina knew he understood why she’d volunteered. She understood he was afraid for her. All of the understanding had not left them with any resolution.

“Idiot,” whispered in her earpiece.

“Dumbee,” she whispered back.

He’d taken the night shift monitoring her progress since she’d left three days ago. Sometimes she’d hear Dosia in the background. She’d turned one not long before Marcelina had left. A normal child. No missing limbs, or extra…stuff. Jory had never been able to quite reassure her. Not until she’d had Dosia and held her in her arms. Normal. Unlike her mother.

“The reports are looking worse, Marcelina. Are you sure you won’t scrub this insanity and come back?”

The three-day trip to this outpost had been harrowing. Twice she’d almost been caught, but she hadn’t told Jory. He worried enough now. When she got home she would tell him. She would be safe then. He would hold her and it would be a bad dream because nothing bad would happen when he held her.

“I can’t.”

“I know.” His sigh barely made it through the earpiece. “Dosia misses her mama. I do too.”

Tears threatened her vision, but she dashed them away with a quick swipe of her hand.

“I miss her dad. Especially when it’s this cold.” She hadn’t been warm since she’d left the rebels’ base.

“Tonight then?”

“It has to be. I picked up some chatter earlier. The inspectors left this morning. There’s only five soldiers here now.”

“Five to one is not good, Marcelina.”

“If the one were someone not me, Jory.”

His laugh was harder to hear than his sigh had been.

“You had better be careful. Or I will kick your ass when you get home.”

“With what foot?”

“Low blow, Couch.”

“I thought you liked those?”

He stuttered and he stammered and she knew he’d be blushing.

“I’m going quiet now. I’ll contact again in an hour. When it’s done.”

“Marcelina, please me careful.”

“Only because you asked. I love you.”

“I love you.”

He would still listen. The mic would be muted, but he’d hear everything. Which was why she was determined to do this by the book. Nothing reckless. So he would know he didn’t have to worry.

Marcelina crept closer to the outpost. There was not much to it above ground. The base could extend underground, but they did not know. What she needed was in the communication shack. Where there were always at least two people. Because if this had been an easy task someone else would have volunteered.

For an hour she froze on the ground as she watched the soldiers. No one had been more surprised than her to discover she had the patience for this work. The shack door opened and one of the radiomen came out to light a cigarette. Which left one inside.

Every muscle wanted to run, but she took it slow. She had, maybe, two minutes the way he was sucking on the thing in his mouth. A snicker surprised her. Had she laughed? Marcelina slapped a hand over her mouth. An itch on her back had her shrug off her coat. The thin wool didn’t keep the cold out anyway.

A flat, empty stretch of ground stood between her shadows and the access she needed at the back of the shack. She didn’t think about what she would do or what might happen. Instead, Marcelina raced across the ground and almost slammed into the back wall. That would have been bad.

From her coat pocket she pulled out the small pin and stuck it into the thickest wire in the mess. Pressed against the wall as she was, it was easy to hear the alarm ping. Fuck. Marcelina almost dropped the syringe, but uncapped it without incident.

The door opened and she heard voices. Fuck again. Hands shaking, she carefully inserted the syringe into the hole the pin had left. Once she’d injected whatever weird tech she’d been carrying, she ran her finger over the wire. She felt no trace of a hole.

Now all she had to do was get away.

“Don’t move.”

“Fuck.” The word echoed in her ear.

“Identify yourself.”

Later, when she was safe at home, she would honestly tell Jory she had no idea what had come over her.

Right now, she let her wings extend and heard gasps from the three men standing with guns pointed at her. The wind picked up and she let it help her as she launched herself into the air. A few feet off the ground she spoke as alarms sounded around her.

“I am the Scarlet Ibis. Tell your people they are no longer safe. They will never be safe until they throw off their oppressor. Because so long as your beloved president rules, I will be here to take him and those who follow him down.”

She stopped fighting the wind and flew higher. It was quite dramatic, she thought.

“You stole that speech from The Claw 195.”

“Shut up, Jory!”



31 Days - Day 16


“Are you sure?” The look from the medic annoyed Marcelina. Annoyance made her blush. Embarrassment had her demand he run the test again.

“This was the third time. I don’t think even I could mess things up so badly as to make a mistake that many times in a row.”

She didn’t know this medic, but she knew that tone of voice. So, she mumbled an apology and left. As agitated as she was there was no way to keep her wings still. Scarlet feathers fluttered and she reached out to grab a wing tip as it brushed against the concrete wall. Somedays she hated them more than others. Whenever she was upset it was impossible to control them.

Jory thought it amusing and had declared himself satisfied he could provide others with a list of warning signs for when to avoid her. Thinking of him changed her path. She wanted to see him, but he was working.

Not that it mattered in the end. Marcelina had told him, in the early days of his recovery, that she was selfish. A fact she’d never voiced aloud before. As he’d laid in bed, only half aware sometimes, she’d unburdened her soul to him. None of it was lies, but perhaps he’d been right when he’d told her one day she looked at herself through a skewed lens.

Either way, selfish or not, she couldn’t stop herself from going to his lab. He hadn’t let his injuries slow him down. She stood in the door and watched him work at first. With no idea what he was doing, science had never been her strong suit, she could only admire the way he moved. Which she did. All the time.

A cane rested against the wall, but he didn’t use it. Not this early in the day. By evening he would use it to help steady himself. His left leg was gone from above the knee and the prosthetic was old school. They managed to save his right leg, but not his foot. Marcelina, only thankful he was alive, had made it clear she did not care. Not, he’d assured her, that he’d ever doubted.

A smile curved her lips upwards as he finally noticed her.

His grin made her stomach do somersaults.

No. It wasn’t the grin.

Marcelina made it to the wastebasket in time to lose her breakfast.

“Marcelina! Are you ok?”

He could move quite fast when he needed to and Jory was by her side with a towel and a glass of water before she was done being sick.

“I’m fine,” she croaked before another wave of nausea hit her. Head bent over the basket she waited with an agitated impatience for it to end. Jory’s fingers stroked down the feathers that ran down her neck. A flash of lust crept into her nausea. Damn him. Now her body pulled her in two directions.

“Marcelina, what’s the matter?”

Lifting her head didn’t make her feel ill so she did. He handed her the glass and she rinsed her mouth out before drinking. A grin bordered on a smirk so she used his sleeve to wipe her mouth. Jory wrinkled his nose, but his fingers continued to stroke her feathers.

“That got me in this situation in the first place.”

Not that it mattered. She scooted closer and laid her head on his shoulder. The scarlet wings on her back extended with a ruffle before they closed around the two of them.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“The door is open.”

“Which is not you saying no.”

“When was the last time I told you no, Jory Couch?”


“Which is why we’re in this situation.”

Jory’s hand moved, swept under her wing, and rested against her stomach. Not once did she think the medic had spilled the beans. Jory always knew what was going on with her. She’d never doubted him. Except that once, but that was Charlotte. Stupid Charlotte.

“It’ll be ok, Marcelina Couch. I have you.”

And he did. So, it would be.




31 Days - Day 15


The building shook around them and she watched as dust and debris rained down with a steady ping of concrete on metal. Every time a bit of wall or ceiling hit her helmet, Marcelina flinched. It was clear to everyone but their captain the enemy had their position locked in. Unfortunately for everyone, the captain had demanded they hold. In the end, she supposed, dying here or across the street wouldn’t matter.

For three days they’d been trying to push across the ruined city. The captain claimed the enemy had bombed it years ago, but Marcelina didn’t believe him. Oh, she didn’t doubt the enemy might have, but it was as likely their own president dictator had bombed the poor souls who lived here. Likely on a whim.

Footsteps thudded under the sound of guns and Marcelina swiveled on her knees and lifted her rifle.

“Friendly. Friendly! Don’t shoot.”

Only training beaten into her head kept Marcelina from dropping her rifle. She did break rank and race across the broken ground. He was the first one through the door and Marcelina felt her heart beat for the first time in two days. The weeping gash in her arm from a stray bullet, fired from one side or the other, didn’t matter. Neither did the bruises running down the left side of her body where she’d fallen when a floor collapsed under her. Marcelina threw her arms around Jory.

“I thought you were died. They said- your platoon.”

He wrapped his arms around her and they stood that way as her captain shouted orders. So close. They’d been so close, but it had been made clear they would never serve together. They could die alone. One at a time. She’d known he was in the city. Because the president dictator had also been sure to keep her appraised. The bastard.

“We’re all that’s left,” Jory murmured against her ear. “I knew you would be here.”

His voice was the only noise she heard despite the battle outside. What he said, she barely comprehended, but that was ok. Jory would know she only needed to hear him.

“Mrs. Couch,” he whispered at last and kissed her. A few soldiers hooted, but neither of them cared. It had been almost a year since they’d done more than see one another. Marcelina would shoot the first person who tried to pull her from his arms.

The radio crackled and she stiffened in his embrace. Jory shook his head and kept his arms around her as they turned to see what was going on. The radio never sent good news.

“New orders, sir,” the radio operator said as he tugged the goggled helmet from his head. “We’re to go up three streets. They have prisoners.”

If anyone heard Jory’s whimper other than Marcelina they didn’t speak. She’d seen prisoners handled as well. Their arms unwound from each other, but their hands stayed linked. The captain smirked, but said nothing. He knew. He would hurt them soon enough. Her commanding officers knew her time was up. It had been since the day she’d stepped into the government van outside Jory’s house.

No resistance met them as they moved forward. Shells exploded overhead, but they knew by now to keep their helmets on and their heads down. The building they’d been in moments before exploded in a shower of metal and concrete.

“If only,” she muttered.

“Idiot,” he muttered back with a grin.

Her heart, only recently beating again, nearly stopped once more at his grin. His face was a mess of cuts and dried blood, but his eyes still shone when he looked at her. As they moved she tried to see if he was injured. No limp, no odd hanging arms, and his fingers seemed to be working fine. Of course, if he had internal injuries they could have dosed him with enough combat cocktail to keep him on his feet until his insides exploded.

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re crazy.”

“I got it from you.”

In the middle of a war zone was not the place to have the sorts of thoughts she had now. Marcelina wished they could have five minutes alone. Well, hours, but she’d settle for five minutes.

Instead, they hurried into a makeshift command building. It had been some kind of store before, she thought. In the last year she’d gotten quite good at figuring out what a ruined building used to house.

“In here,” a sergeant said. The captain led them to the back. A receiving area, Marcelina suspected.

Then she saw the prisoners.


Jory heard her whisper and squeezed her hand harder. She moved forward and he didn’t let go. They shoved through the small group gathered.

“Those are not enemy combatants, sir,” she said.

“Shut up, private.”

“Sir, those are children!”

A dozen children knelt together. Their clothes were no more than rags and skeletal limbs covered in new and old wounds shook. None of them could have been older than ten.

“This is it,” she whispered to Jory.

She would die here. He only squeezed her hand before he dropped it. They both stepped forward and stood between the children and the other soldiers.

“Stand down, private.”

“Fuck you, sir. These are not enemy combatants.”

“I say they are.”

“They can barely hold their heads up, captain. There’s no way they held a weapon.”

“Stand down, private!”

“Fuck you, sir.”

“You said that already.”

Hysteria threatened her. Marcelina couldn’t stop a mad laugh. Jory still grinned, but he’d raised his gun. Hers, she realized, was already up and pointed at the captain.

“You’re dead, private.”

“So are you, captain.”

Marcelina shot him in the chest. He stumbled back and before she heard the sound of gunfire erupt in the room she heard the whistle of an incoming missile. Gun held with one hand, she reached for Jory with the other and she didn’t know what hit her first, the falling ceiling or the bullets from the other soldiers.


Hands grabbed her arms and she screamed. It felt like she was being pulled through a tube half her size by metal claws. No, that wasn’t dramatic enough. After she woke up from passing out she’d think of something better. Or let Jory. He had a better way with words.

Whispered voices drew her from the cocoon of unconsciousness. She hated them. Marcelina opened one eye, but couldn’t see anything.


The croak of her voice silenced the others.

“Jory?” she tried again.

“She’s alive.”

“Yes,” an almost familiar voice said. “Find him. We need to move.”

“Where’s Jory?”

A spark of light made Marcelina blink and when her vision almost worked she recognized the woman crouched beside her. Well, she recognized the scars covering half of her. The woman from Herbert’s funeral. Why was she here?

“Jory is here. Somewhere. We’re attempting to find him.” Her voice expressed doubt without words.

Ignoring the pain, Marcelina sat up. If Jory were here, here being the ruins of the building they’d almost died in, she would be the one to find him. The unknown woman watched as Marcelina tried to stand. Her legs were too unsteady and she gave out a cry as she fell down.

“Yes, you are going to be a big help.”

“Fuck. You.”

Then she heard it. Barely a whisper. Maybe no one else did, but she did.

“You said that.”

Marcelina wanted to scream. Not only because she heard him, but because she was becoming aware of how much she hurt. Her entire back burned and they’d left something on it. Had a piece of the ceiling fused with her armor? No, she wasn’t wearing armor.

“Jory!” She’d wanted to yell, but had barely managed a whisper. On her hands and knees she crawled over debris to begin digging for him. He would be alive. They would be fine. The same two sentences were on repeat in her mind as two others, unknowns, joined her quest.

As much as she wanted to tell them to go away, she didn’t. Their help would be needed. Otherwise, she would send them all away. Jory would either be ok and they would leave together or he’d be too hurt and she would sit here with him until they both died.

“The kids?” Jory whispered as soon as they’d moved enough of the collapsed building to see him.

Marcelina felt guilty for not thinking of them first.

“We managed to save four of them.”

“Jory? Are you ok? What’s wrong?”

“Please, let us see to him. We are trained.”

A growl vibrated in her chest. The weight of her knife at her hip told her she was not unarmed. Except, Jory had freed a hand and brushed his fingers across her thigh. It was bad. She knew and, hating herself for being a coward, retreated.

The scarred woman hadn’t moved. Marcelina worked her way over to her and noticed the itching on her back. Better than the burning, she supposed. Had there been a chemical weapon in the missile? Were they all dead anyway?

Jory screamed.

Marcelina shrieked when she felt something on her back. Her head whipped from one side to the other. What? No.

This time she whimpered for herself.

What had happened to her?

Jory screamed again. It was too much and she dodged around the scarred woman’s hand to hurry as best she could back to her husband’s side. Husband, despite what had been done. They’d not been allowed to legally marry as it would have given them the right to serve together. They only had their own vows.

“Jory?” she whimpered.

His eyes unfocused and she saw the needle in his arm. Combat cocktail, she thought. To keep his body from crashing. He lifted his hand and she heard feathers ruffle. As his fingers stroked scarlet feathers she realized they were hers.

“Do you have claws?” he wheezed.

Marcelina looked down at her hands. They looked normal. So, she shook her head.

“A shame. Then- then-”

She felt them now, feathers in her hair and down from there to her shoulders and back. Where her wings were. Wings. Marcelina wondered if she’d been drugged.

“We need to cut him out.”

“He has to live.”

Funny. She should have said that, but it was the other woman. With the scars. Why would she care if Jory lived?

Oh. Because of Marcelina.

Wait. How did she know?

Her head spun so she clutched it as warm, damp feathers closed around her. Jory screamed so she did as well. The scarred woman was right. He had to live.

No one else would be able to stop the visions of blood she saw in her head from coming true. 



31 Days - Day 14

Whispers had followed them all day. School had been an impossible length and a waste. She’d wanted to stay away. He hadn’t. So, she’d attended classes she didn’t give a shit about. On her way into her second to last class a hand plucked at her sleeve and she turned to see Jory. He pulled her away from the door and towards the exit.


“Enough. You’ve done enough, Marcelina. Come on.”

Relief flooded through her as they slipped from the school. The cameras would have seen them, but neither cared. It wouldn’t matter. Not after today. Everyone had said it would be today.

They walked back to his house, hands clasped and neither speaking. His parents worked so they had the house to themselves. After ransacking the kitchen, they wound up in his bedroom. Another contest of wills then, but Marcelina won and they had frenzied, desperate sex in the silence of the house.

“We have time,” he pointed out when they were done and laid together in a jumble of sweaty limbs.

“Next time. I- I just needed that.”

He kissed her cheek with a grin.

Marcelina clung to him and hated the way she sobbed. A vow this morning not to do this exact thing had not kept it from happening. It would end today. Everything would. She didn’t want it to happen. It wasn’t fair.

Jory stroked her back and let her cry. With her face buried against his chest she could let him think she didn’t know he cried. He probably didn’t worry about such things.

“Eww. You’re wiping your nose on my chest.”

“I am not!”

Marcelina shoved away from him and he laughed. So, as he watched she did wipe her nose on his pillow. That done, she jerked it out from under his head and hit him with it. He grabbed for her and they tumbled off the bed together. The carpet did not protect them from the floor underneath.

“We can still run.”

He shook his head. He was right, but a tiny part of her still hated his denial of her offer. Jory stood and began to get dressed.

“Come on. I want to go somewhere.”

“I thought we were staying here?”

“Please, Marcelina?”

As if he had to ask. As if she would deny him anything. Except a life. She’d signed his death warrant. Guilt gnawed at her so she dressed and followed him from the house. She’d thought they’d go farther, but he only led her back to their old clubhouse. He climbed up first.

Which was good because when her head popped up through the trapdoor she froze with a gasp. The first thing to start working again was her nose. At least a hundred flowers were scattered on the floor and in buckets and vases along the walls. Two small lanterns lit the space and he’d hung red fabric on the walls. On their small table sat a collection of comic books.

Her fingers threatened to give free so she hauled herself up the rest of the way. Once she’d closed the trapdoor, Jory walked across the carpet of flowers towards her. More tears came as he took her hands in his.

“Marcelina, I know it won’t mean anything to anyone else, but it would mean the world to me if you would marry me. Now. Here. I’m not afraid of what’s to come.”

She was terrified. He squeezed her fingers and she nodded. They crossed the flowers and he knelt down at the table. She followed. In the back of her mind she wondered how, despite him always doing whatever crazy ideas she had, she always followed him for the important things. A smile broke the hold her tears had when she saw the stacks of Claw comics.

Jory laid his hand atop them and she followed suit. They joined their other hands together and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“Marcelina. My Marcelina. Quit laughing.” His eyes narrowed and she tried to be quiet. A giggle escaped at the end, but she managed. “Don’t be scared, Marcelina. I’m with you. I am always with you. Marcelina Beatrycze Couch, I love you and I’m yours.”

Dehydration was a real possibility if she couldn’t get her tears under control. Jory was silent as she struggled to get some control over her voice. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to find anything to say.

“Jory. I- It’s not fair. You had time to prepare!” He smirked, but also squeezed her fingers. It wouldn’t matter what she said. She only had to say something. “I love you. I always have. Nothing will keep us apart. Jory Daveth Couch, I love you and I’m yours.”

They didn’t rush this time. She would die any day now, but this memory would see her through whatever hell she was sent to in life and death. The rest of the afternoon they read old comics and made love. If death hadn’t hung over their heads it would have been perfect.

Towards evening they finally dressed again and climbed down, pockets stuffed with flowers. The neighborhood was quiet, everyone knew now. The announcement had reached even into their cocoon. Jory held her hand tight as they walked to the street and sat on the curb.

Marcelina thought about going home, but her mama would know. Siemowit had better take care of her now. There was no use going home and arguing with her brother. Instead, she laid her head on Jory’s shoulder and they sat to wait for the government van driving down the street.

Behind it a black car followed. Marcelina stood and pulled Jory up when the car stopped. She would not face him sitting down. He would not know how scared she felt.

“Marcelina Mencher.”

“Couch. I am Marcelina Couch.”

The man from the car smiled at her. His attention turned to Jory and he inclined his head. Jory did nothing.

“Mr. Couch. You may go inside. Your name did not appear.”


Marcelina squeezed his hand tighter. He could go. He would live. Only, she knew he wouldn’t. If the man from the car thought to break them he was an idiot. She knew he was an idiot. And cruel.

Jory would follow Marcelina to their deaths.

And Marcelina would find a way to kill the President Dictator before she died. 



31 Days - Day 13


Marcelina closed her chemistry book and let it fall with a soft thud to the floor. Studying was a waste and she had no idea why Jory insisted on continuing the charade. Any day now conscription would be called and none of their education would matter. Bullet sponges didn’t need to know anything but how to bleed.

Jory did not take the hint. Not even when she sighed. So, she slid down onto her back and rested her head in his lap. Eyes closed, she felt his fingers in her hair as she heard the page turn. Pages. As in books. So old fashioned.

“Read that last part to me?”

She liked listening to him even when she couldn’t understand what he said. He may as well have been speaking ancient Sumerian. Once, tipsy on stolen wine, she’d said she could listen to him recite the phone book. The next time they were alone in their old clubhouse he’d sat on her and read from the phone directory.

“Jory?” she asked three pages later.

“Almost done with this section.”

“I’m naked under my clothes.”

“Scandalous!” He set his book down. His hand left her hair and slid to her shoulder. “Marcelina?”


“So am I.”

She hadn’t planned on this. Not truly.

Not exactly.

No more than she’d planned on this every time they’d been alone for the last year and a half. Something had always happened. Interruptions were common, but tonight they shouldn’t have to worry. She’d snuck out and they’d double checked that their meager lamp light couldn’t be seen through the curtains hung over the open windows. To study undisturbed.

“Are you sure?”

Marcelina sat up and rested on her knees beside him. He watched as she began to unbutton her shirt. In the dim light he might have missed her blush, but she doubted it from the way he grinned at her.

“Have you done this before?” She hated to ask. Because if he had she didn’t know what she’d do.

“No.” He grinned at her again. “Well, the one time with Charlotte, but she doesn’t count.”

“You!” Marcelina pushed him to the sleeping bags under them and pinned his arms down. It wasn’t hard because he laughed. She started laughing when he pulled a hand free and began to tickle her.

She kissed him before she lost all her breath from laughing. The next kiss, or maybe the one after, took his breath away. She stopped keeping track afterwards.

After their awkward fumblings, they curled up around each other as the chill night air began to seep into their bodies. Marcelina was surprised she hadn’t noticed the cold before. Then Jory slid against her as he pulled an old army blanket over them and she remembered why she hadn’t noticed the cold.

“That was way better than with Charlotte.”

“Shut up.”

“I didn’t kiss her.”


“When we were nine. I never kissed Charlotte. She said I could. She wanted me to. I never did.”

“Then why did you say what you did? About her saying I would cry.”

The day had left an impression. Not only because of her black eye. Marcelina shivered when his fingers traced her spine.

“Because she did say it. She said even if I didn’t kiss her she’d say I did and you would cry.”

“I really don’t like Charlotte.”

“The feeling is mutual. She’s always been jealous.”


“Because I never wanted her.”


Jory’s lips quieted hers. She didn’t mind. Nor did she mind when his mouth left hers to explore other places.

“It’s always been you, Marcelina. Ever since you puked on my shoes in kindergarten.”

Only Jory could say that and not ruin the mood. So, she found a way to thank him for being perfect. Twice.